Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra – A big-screen contender in the mid-range war

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If you’re after a Sony smartphone, and we mean really after one, then you are probably going to be waiting on the Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact devices that were announced at this year’s MWC. We get it — some users are keen on Sony’s premium lineup and nothing else. That said, there is still some benefit to looking a little down the tier to devices like the new Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra, a large-faced phone built for screen space and photography.

It clocks in at R8,000 here in the South African market, which pulls the Xperia XA2 Ultra out of the budget bracket and dumps it into the fiercely-combative mid-range market. Just how does Sony’s warrior fare against all the other rectangular slabs out there vying for your attention? Read on.

Design: Simple, solid, sparse — typically Sony

Have you ever seen an Xperia handset before? Expect more of that. Just… you know, larger. It’s got the word ‘Ultra’ in the title for a reason — the 6in display. If you like your handsets oversized, this one will stop you in your tracks. Since this one doesn’t have Samsung’s bezel-shrinking tech, it’s larger than the Samsung Galaxy S8+. And the S9+, too.

It’s not the all-glass build that you might have become used to from Sony’s minimalist black rectangles (and other colours too) but it’s still reassuringly weighty in-hand. Weighty enough that we had nightmares of having it slip out of our grip and seeing it plummet to the floor… At that point we woke up. Phew.

There’s still a headphone jack in place, volume control buttons, camera shutter, and power button live down the right-hand side, and there’s a fingerprint sensor around the rear of the phone. USB-C is how you’ll charge and transfer data — if anyone even still does it that way.

Performance: Enough to get you by

The XA2 Ultra is packing a decidedly mid-tier processor in the Snapdragon 630. This octa-core chip (because all of them are, these days) is trailing an Adreno 503 GPU and is backed by 4GB of RAM. We had the 32GB storage model (approx 25GB available) for review and, as is customary, we banged the Xperia XA2 Ultra into a benchmark program or two. Because we’re not quick enough to count ones and zeros manually.

Geekbench 4 was the first port of call, where the XA2 managed to garner 863 for its single-core score and 4193 for multi-core performance. Single-core performance was about on par with the Nexus 5, the LG-made handset from 2013 which was toting a Snapdragon 800. Multi-core was a better result, more or less equal to the Snapdragon 820-bearing OnePlus 3 that was all the rage circa 2016. Overall, not too shabby. This used to be flagship performance, one day it’ll be budget. Just sayin’.

It also did a stint in Antutu, where the graphics rendering performance… could have been better. The more intensive tests resembled a slide show but the XA2 Ultra did walk out with 88,141 points. That’s a long way off from the 200,000+ of the top devices in the benchmark charts but it’s also more than enough to be getting on with. Anyway, you’re not buying this phone because of its processor.

Camera: The reason you bought this phone

If you absolutely must have more megapixels than everyone else, this is the phone that’ll give ’em to you. The Xperia XA2 Ultra has a huge 23MP rear snapper that dwarfs everything else out there. It’s not how many you have, though, it’s how you use ’em. And the XA2 Ultra uses them rather well, in typical Sony fashion. That means that the rear camera takes detailed shots but it does suffer somewhat in low-light conditions, imparting enough grain in dark areas to make your garage look like a derelict building from Resident Evil.

It’s actually the front-facing cam that’ll grab your attention here — Sony’s gone for a 16MP front sensor and added an LED flash and OIS (optical image stabilisation) here. But it’s not alone. There’s a secondary 8MP wide-angle sensor, so that you can fit your entire crew in while doing shots at the rear table on a Friday night. The LED flash is a bit bright for darker areas, to be honest, but it’ll suffice to chase away the graininess just as effectively as it’ll ruin your night vision.

Long exposure short, you can get the XA2 Ultra’s rear cam performance in a few places but the selfie-cam found here has few opponents. For the social media-minded, this is the phone to beat. In the same vein, if you’re not selfie-obsessed, there’s not much to see here.

Battery and software: Ticking the rest of the boxes

You’re going to wind up charging the Xperia XA2 Ultra once a day. Not because you ran out of juice before getting home from work but because you won’t get all the way through a second day on a single charge. At least, we couldn’t, but we tend to hammer smartphones a little harder than most. The 3,840mAh battery should get you all the way home on a charge but not much further unless you’re just… making calls and replying to messages. We can see how folks could manage two days from this battery, though. We just couldn’t do it ourselves.

Android 8.0 is available out of the box and we do love us some Oreo. Especially since Sony have opted to cut down some on their own apps this time around. There are a few, with Music, Movies, and Gallery making an appearance, but there’s less Sony influence this time around. If, that is, you discount the reskin which makes little difference to the XA2 Ultra’s performance. Looks cool, though.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra verdict

If you’re looking for an oversized handset with some serious selfie skills, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re not part of that demographic, you’ll still enjoy what the Xperia XA2 Ultra has to offer — just not quite as much. The XA2 Ultra is a solid contender in the mid-range, where sacrifices tend to be made and where handsets are aimed at a specific sort of user. If you’re young, social media-y, and prone to taking photos with friends, then this one’s going to be tough to beat. Even at R8k, which is kinda the pricing halfway-mark these days.

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